Who’s afraid of viral videos on the drug menace in Punjab?

Are you not filled with dread every time another video of a young man ravaged by drugs surfaces on social media? In the last two weeks, videos have been emerging from all corners of Punjab.

columns Updated: Jul 03, 2018 00:10 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Aarish Chhabra
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab drugs,Drug menace in Punjab,Punjab
The government has time and again told the public that drug abuse is a complex problem.(HT File)

What’s the price of heroin in Punjab? It’s high, so high that it’s solid proof that the drug menace is on the wane, if you believe those who rule the state. But the argument works only if you measure the price of drugs in money terms, and see the fight against drugs as a law-and-order, demand-and-supply, smuggler-and-buyer issue. Is it just that?

Let me tell you a story. A boy was born to a woman who worked hard to become richer than her father or husband ever was. With her decent salary from a government job, she built two houses, one for herself in the proverbially dusty bylanes of a tiny little town in Punjab, and the other for the son near Chandigarh where she hoped he would someday work as an engineer.

She worked hard to have him not become like his father, who lost to alcohol his beautiful mind that once kept him immersed in Shakespeare and his tragedy.

The son, though, wanted to be like Papa, who always seemed extremely calm and contented, as if high on life. When he reached a certain educational qualification and Papa was dead, he had a chance to get Papa’s position in a government office. Mom didn’t want that, or anything else that could lead him onto the father’s path.

She sent him to an engineering college instead, even though the son’s poor interest in the subject meant he got into a private university whose students don’t exactly love its full name, preferring a slightly professional-sounding acronym instead.

He was set on a path of upper-middle-class success. Ten years on, he has had two stints in government-run rehabs, and remains far from the success that his mother dreamt for him. He does not have a degree yet, though the university where a drug network flourishes is further burnishing its image by inviting topmost leaders to convocations.

I am hardly in touch with this boy after trying to help him in between. I often wonder if he has relapsed, or if my efforts too were only as serious as the religious oaths taken by leaders who vowed to end the menace in four weeks. I am filled with guilt, and a creeping dread, every time another video of a young man ravaged by drugs surfaces on social media. In the last two weeks, new videos have been emerging from all corners of Punjab.

In one such video, a man who looks hardly 25 is sitting next to a bike off which he has fallen in a drug-induced nothingness. Three men have gathered around him — one of them is washing his face, another is urging him to open his mouth so he can give him water, and the third is shooting the video, also providing running commentary about the drug menace.

Wait, is that him? No, it’s not someone I know. Thank God. I can sympathise with relative ease now, free of immediate guilt just like our leaders. I am not sure if the men shooting the video and giving him water eventually took him to a doctor. I am not sure if taking him to a doctor would help, since he would someday be discharged and return to the same state where pointless posturing and painful pragmatism are the only two options offered by the powers that be.

After each such video, the government’s image-defence forces seek to shoot it down with data bullets. We are told that thousands of peddlers are behind bars. We are also told that it’s a complex problem and cannot just be wished away. Of course, we know that. Spin doctors need not worry about people’s capacity to reason and understand.

Data on arrests, many of which are of users sucked into crime by the very addiction, can never tell you a story. Nor can videos always be the ultimate proof of everything. But the anger of the people is palpable now, and it is nothing but a reflection of helplessness, as anger mostly is.

Devoid of compassion or reflection, political wham-bam only makes it worse, leading to a simplistic question: Why did they promise to end it in four weeks if they knew they could not? I will not ask that. The videos have made me and you cry, and ignited another dangerous question: What if the people, high on grief and anger, turn into mobs and start lynching alleged peddlers, not even sparing addicts and politicians, and thus Punjabi society launches a full-fledged, no-holds-barred surgical strike on itself? Will that be the price this menace extracts?

Don’t tell me I’m being alarmist. The issue is more complex than that, you know.

The writer can be contacted at aarish.chhabra@htlive.com; he tweets at @aarishc

First Published: Jul 01, 2018 11:28 IST